6 Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreens

It’s August, the sun is shining and heating us up with no mercy.  It’s time to discuss sun screen.  Ok, if we are going to be real, the time to discuss sunscreen was May, but life happens and I just got around to this post.  So let’s do this.

There are so many options for sunscreens out there and this post will cover only a few.  The main takeaway is to know what to avoid, what is ok, and a few examples of the ones I like.  However, this is not a complete list.

Sun screen can be full of toxic chemicals.  It may reduce our chances of skin cancer but can cause other health problems.  How can this be?

skin diagram.jpg

Dermatology 101

Many people assume that sunscreen goes on top of your skin and stays there. No big deal, right? It actually is a big deal because the skin is a living organ. In fact it is the largest organ in the body. When we apply anything to our skin, it penetrates through the skin cell layers and it reaches the capillaries (tiny vessels in the skin). The product components move through the walls of the blood vessels, and the blood carries the ingredients to other parts of the body. Think morphine patches, birth control patches, and ADHD medication patches. Drug companies understand that chemicals can be applied to the skin and distributed to organs. We should too.


AVOID the following:




Retinal palmitate


Fragrance with phthalates.

FDA, earlier this year, raised concerns over the ingredients in sunscreen. It has put the entire industry on alert because we have enough safety information on only 2 out of 16 sunscreen ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  This is very reassuring since we have been lathering ourselves with all the other chemicals for years.  Well, truth be told, when I was young I used baby oil and competed for the best tan.  Ok, so not my smartest moments.

Ingredients to Avoid and Why

Before we get down to the nitty gritty, let’s discuss the EWG.  They are the Enviornmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. They score products based on safety data. EWG scores 0-10, 0 is the cleanest and 10 is the worst.

Oxybenzone (EWG 8)

detected in nearly every American

found in mothers’ milk

1% to 9% skin penetration in lab studies

correlation with lower testosterone levels in men and boys

lower sperm counts and abnormal sperm quality

increases risk for endometriosis

associated with altered birth weight in human studies

high risk of skin allergy

Citations: Janjua 2004, Janjua 2008, Sarveiya 2004, Gonzalez 2006, Rodriguez 2006,

Krause 2012, Kunisue 2012, Buck-Louis 2014, Louis 2015

Octinoxate (EWG 6)

found in mother’s milk

hormone-like activity

reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies

moderate risk of skin allergy

Citations: Krause 2012, Sarveiya 2004, Rodriguez 2006, Klinubol 2008

Homosalate (EWG 4)

found in mother’s milk

disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone

high concern for toxic break down products

Citations: Krause 2012, Sarveiya 2004, SCCNFP 2006


a group of related chemicals commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. These chemicals prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in products. The most common parabens in beauty products are butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben

they mimic the activity of estrogen in the body, thus posing a risk to reproductive health and the endocrine system


chemicals that make plastic more flexible, was in children’s toys, recently banned

have been shown to lower levels of testosterone

associated with abnormal urogenital anatomy of boys called “Phthalate Syndrome”

associated with increased risk for PCOS

in sunscreens it appears as “fragrance” or Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) on the label

Citations: Gynecol Endocrinol. 2019, Reprod Toxicol. (2016), Dr Swan 1999

Retinal Palmitate

this is a form of vitamin A

it has been shown that when applied topically, it reacts with UV rays, increasing the risk of skin tumors

avoid the following: retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate and retinyl linoleate

Citations: National Toxicology Program 2012,

Others with insufficient data

Octisalate (EWG 4)

Octocrylene (EWG 3)

Lowest Risk

Zinc Oxide (EWG 2)

Titanium Dioxide(EWG 2)

Avobenzone(EWG 2)

My Favorite Sunscreens

In good health, Dr. Ana-Maria

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